“And you will say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD, “If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law [תורה] which I have set before you, to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened; then I will make this house like Shiloh, and this city I will make a curse to all the nations of the earth”’” (Jeremiah 26:4-6).
Ask most people what prophets do, and they will tell you that prophets foretell the future. I have been convinced for a long time that such an understanding of the prophets and biblical prophecy misses a crucial message of the biblical Prophets (and those who echo them in the New Testament). I contend that the Prophets applied the Law of Moses to their audiences in the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They communicated using language meant to move hard hearts – powerful language with dramatic imagery and edgy language. Their “future telling,” when it is present at all (not nearly as often as we’ve grown accustomed to think), is merely an application of the curses for covenant violation in the Law (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28). The Law promised invasion by a foreign army and deportation. The Prophets, in seeing covenant violation among the people, promised this would come. And it did.
Learning one thing revolutionized my reading of the Bible, and that one thing is seeing parallelism. The Hebrew language is not highly technical (like Greek) – the Old Testament writers say one thing several different ways to further illuminate their meaning.
Consider this parallelism:
- “...listen to Me, to walk in My law [תורה] which I have set before you...”
- “...to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again...”
Both of these phrases are introduced with the verb “listen” (שמע), setting up the parallelism as clear as possible for us. Both “law” and “the words of My servants the prophets” are the words of the LORD to His covenant people.
From the standpoint of the doctrine of the Bible, the Law is foundational. The New Testament shows us the Lord Jesus and His apostles continually citing the Law as authoritative teaching. The Prophets of the Old Testament rely on the Law in the same way. There is no fullness to your understanding of later passages of Scripture if you aren’t familiar with what came before. Sadly, most people’s reading of the Prophets leans forward rather than backward. I find the same to be true in most attempts to interpret Revelation.
The LORD, speaking through Jeremiah, places His Law and Prophets in parallelism.
False prophets do not speak the words of the LORD (applying His Law), but speak their own words. “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the LORD” (23:16). “‘Behold, I am against the prophets,’ declares the LORD, ‘who use their tongues and declare, “The Lord declares”’” (23:31).
Prophecy is the Spirit-empowered application of the Law to the lives of God’s people with the goal of moving them to repentance from their sin before the Lord. I would use this definition for most of New Testament “prophecy,” as well (especially as described in Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12,14; Ephesians 4:11). We would put it under the category “preaching” these days, though the Bible seems to have parsed the categories of prophetic preaching of the Law for conviction, evangelistic preaching of the Gospel for the giving of grace (to believers and non-believers), and the teaching/explanation of the Bible. We need all of these in our spiritual diet continually.
The “Prophets” of the Old Testament are inerrant and inspired, and serve as models/examples for preachers in the Church. We are, as part of our calling, preach the commands of God, leaning on the Holy Spirit’s help, to move the people of God to repentance and obedience...and we are to do this without abandoning the giving of the grace of the Gospel or the explanation of the meaning and theology of the text.
It is foolish to believe we can accomplish this in a 15-minute talk filled with anecdotes and stories. It is woefully naive to believe attending the gathering of the Church for one hour a week can adequately fill the God-intended purpose of teachers/preachers in the Church. Does your Church have an evening service, a mid-week Bible study, other small groups that study the Word? Are you a part? These are the means by which God speaks His Word to His people through the power of His Holy Spirit.
We need to be convicted unto repentance and obedience, fed grace unto communion with God in Christ, and trained in the nature, character, ways, and thoughts of God through the explanation of His Word. This cannot happen without giving time to the corporate times in the Word. Commit and get involved. It’s not a matter of not having enough time...you’re reading this, aren’t you? If you’re reading this, you’re probably reading a lot of other stuff online. How many hours of online time are you spending a week compared to gathering with Spirit-filled believers to get into God’s Word together? We fool ourselves by complaining there’s not enough time.
He has given the Law and Prophets, the Gospel and Apostles. We need this more than anything else, and He has purposed that we receive and grow in His Word together.
Let’s get to it.